Zelensky makes surprise trip to Jeddah for Arab League summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday for a surprise appearance at the annual Arab League summit, which will also feature Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after years of being excluded.

Saudi state television broadcaster al-Ekhbariya showed footage of Zelensky being welcomed at an airport in the coastal city of Jeddah.

He had travelled to Jeddah aboard a French plane from Poland, according to the Saudi-owned TV Al Arabiya.


Zelensky confirmed the visit, tweeting: “Beginning my first-ever visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enhance bilateral relations and Ukraine’s ties with the Arab world.”

He wrote he would discuss “political prisoners in Crimea and temporarily occupied territories, the return of our people, peace formula [and] energy cooperation.”

Saudi Arabia “plays a significant role and we are ready to take our cooperation to a new level,” Zelensky continued.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Last year, Riyadh said it helped with the release of prisoners of war.

The kingdom and its Gulf neighbours have so far resisted Western pressure to cut ties with Russia since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

Zelensky will also travel to Japan to join the G7 summit in Hiroshima this weekend, top Ukrainian officials said on Friday.

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is among the main topics of the meeting.

In Jeddah, Zelensky will share the spotlight with al-Assad, who is being welcomed back into the fold.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz invited Assad to the summit last week following the bloc’s decision to readmit Syria to the Arab League, more than a decade after its membership was suspended amid its civil war.

For the once-ostracized Syrian president, who has been accused of war crimes including the use of chemical weapons, the invitation marks a huge success.

In the West, talks with the Syrian ruler are still off the table, after extensive sanctions were imposed 12 years ago in response to his crackdown on anti-government protests that later resulted in a civil war that drew in foreign powers.